Terrouge E-zine Archives
Fan Animation: Kobb's Storyboard Project for Martin the Warrior
In fandoms such as the Redwall Online Community, it is common to see devotees of a given genre exercise their enthusiasm through such literary outlets as fanfiction and roleplaying games, and artistically through amateur drawings and renderings. What is not widely seen are actual motion pictures of any sophistication or complexity offered as fan works. However, this is the 21st Century, so it should hardly come as a surprise that such material is already to be found online, and there only promises to be more in the years to come as the power and versatility of home computers increases.
Late last year, I followed a link provided to me by Terrouge's own Geo Holms and was both surprised and delighted to discover that it led to a very accomplished piece of Redwallian quasi-animation. More like an animated storyboard than anything, the work depicts one of the opening scenes of Martin the Warrior, in which the slavemaster Hisk, chastised by his master Badrang for falling behind schedule on the construction of Fort Marshank, takes out his frustrations on the old squirrel Barkjon, causing Martin to heroically intercede on Barkjon's behalf.
Kobb, the artist behind this animated storyboard, is currently an animation major at Brigham Young University. This particular project was completed last spring as an assignment for her "Illusion of Life" class. Free to choose the subject and manner of her project, Kobb settled upon a three-page section from the first chapter of Martin the Warrior. A longtime fan of both the Redwall novels and animal cartoons, Kobb felt this was something she could adapt into an example of primitive animation fairly quickly and have a good deal of fun with while fulfilling an academic obligation.
Attempts to describe such a visual medium in mere words often prove exercises in futility, but for the purposes of conveying the level of success Kobb has achieved with this nifty little project, I will try to cover the basics at least. Her animated storyboard encompasses over 140 hand-drawn pages — which would equate to somewhere around 6-15 seconds of traditional animation, depending on the fluidity of movement sought by the animators. However, since this is more a "moving storyboard" than actual animation per se, the entire presentation runs roughly three minutes. This more measured parade of imagery is crucial, since a number of the pages include the pertinent, corresponding dialogue from the novel spelled out in the blank area beneath the image frame, in order to more fully convey what is going on in terms of action and interaction between characters. Obviously, it would be quite a challenge to read a line of dialogue in a fraction of a second! In this regard, Kobb pays special mind to hold each page that features text just long enough so it can be easily read before advancing to the next image. This text also includes sound effect notes (both within the picture frame as well as in the dialogue area below it) which heightens the impression of watching a comic strip set in motion.
Kobb employs a number of other devices, both cinematic and graphic, to bring to life this little slice of a much-beloved tale. The former include long establishing shots, pans to simulate camera movements, and extreme close-ups for emotional impact. For example, when Badrang is first introduced, we see only his arm as he's talking to his underling Gurrad, who occupies the center of the frame; only after his lackey is dispatched to carry out an order does the viewpoint slide sideways for a full, centered shot of the stoat warlord. By contrast, the first glimpse we see of Martin is such an extreme tight shot that part of his snout and part of his ear extend unseen beyond the frame. Even the opening few images mimic a motion picture, starting with a shot of the sun in the sky and then, over the course of four drawings, panning down to reveal a bird's-eye view of Marshank. This technique is used throughout the project, often giving a sense of motion and shifting perspective far more involving than one might expect from a simple collection of black and white graphite renderings. As for graphic tricks, one which stands out is having the dialogue for different characters spelled out in different colors: orange for Hisk, red for Gurrad, green for Badrang and blue for Martin. Many of these techniques are so well blended and so seamlessly incorporated into the whole that they don't become apparent unless one is looking for them.
I suppose the bottom line question every Redwall fan must be asking now is, "Yes, but how does it look?" Here we are venturing into the sphere of personal tastes; one might as well ask how the new graphic novelization of Redwall looks. Every artist has his or her own style, and one of the great strengths of Brian Jacques's series is that there has never been any single official artist, which leaves fans free to mentally visualize the settings and characters as they wish. (Surely, the subject of how Redwall fans visualize Mossflower and its inhabitants could fuel an entire recurring column in this e-zine.) Speaking purely for myself, I would say that Kobb did a wonderful job with the character designs, depicting the woodlanders and vermin much the way I have always imagined them myself: flat-footed as opposed to digitigrade, wearing typical medieval-style shirts and jackets but no shoes or pants, proportioned more like bipedal animals than humans, and all generally the same size, give or take a head's height. Kobb throws in a few nice extra touches, such as the chain mail cowl sported by Gurrad, and if Martin's square-headed visage makes this reviewer think more of a bankvole (or perhaps a wombat) than a mouse, I would still say that I prefer Kobb's presentation of these characters - particularly the vermin - to what we were given in the Nelvana TV series of Martin the Warrior.
And if we truly are destined to have myriad animated versions of the various Redwall tales spinning off home computers in the decades to come, each tailored to the individual whims of the fans who create them, what better way to start than with what Kobb has given us here?
Kobb's animated storyboard of Martin the Warrior can be found here: